Browse Month by July 2015
Travelling with 5

Xscape – Castleford

XScape, Castleford - A Free From Life

Did someone move July to autumn? It seems that once again we’ve come up to visit my family in Yorkshire and the weather has let us down.

What to do on a rainy summer’s day? With our plans for going to the beach scuppered, there was no choice but to look for other, indoor, activities. Soft play, yes did that, but once is enough thank you very much. If only we’d brought warm clothes, it wouldn’t have mattered so much to get wrapped up and stay outdoors. But we didn’t bring woolly jumpers and wellies did we? IT’S JULY FOR GOODNESS SAKE.

As luck would have it, there is an amazing place called Xscape just a short car journey down the M62 towards Hull. You could spend a whole day here (and a fortune to boot), with a choice of children’s soft play, 4D glow in the dark golf, Adventure golf, laser shooting, arcades, Gravity trampoline park, bowling, high ropes and rock climbing and skiing. Yes, I think that there is something here for everyone.

XScape, Castleford - A Free From Life

We opted for adventure golf and bowling and I booked my eldest in to the trampoline park (she opted for that instead of the bowling). In between, we went for something to eat in one of the many restaurants. Our choice was Ask, as I knew it had a gluten free menu. There is also Pizza Express, Frankie and Benny’s and TGI’s amongst others. If only I’d remembered to bring our ski jackets and salopettes, we could have gone for a skiing lesson (real snow by the way). How silly of me to forget them in JULY.

XScape, Castleford - A Free From Life

XScape, Castleford - A Free From Life

Anyway, weather aside, we had a great time and probably wouldn’t have gone there had we had outdoor options. To be fair, it wasn’t that busy, considering the rest of Yorkshire could have had the same idea. The kids had a great time. They were exhausted, we were exhausted and we didn’t even do everything. Oh I forgot, there’s even a cinema too and some shops, mainly sports and ski wear shops, but next door is a McArthur Glenn retail outlet, if you’ve got any energy left.

XScape, Castleford - A Free From Life

Sharing this for Country Kids and Monday Escapes.

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall


Almond Butter and Raisin Cookies – grain free, dairy free

Almond butter raisin cookies - A Free From Life

I adapted this recipe from a wheat based peanut raisin cookie recipe I had. The original recipe didn’t have peanut butter, but used coarsesly ground peanuts instead. As I discussed in my posts about converting your recipes to make them gluten free, you need to add more liquid, otherwise the resulting product will be too dry, so it made sense to add a nut butter instead of ground nuts. I replaced the flour with a mixture of ground almonds and fat reduced almond flour.

These cookies are very easy to make and the result is a delicious, crunchie cookie. I hope you enjoy them too.

100g dairy free butter alternative
50g sugar
2 tbsp coconut milk, or another dairy free milk
1 egg white
100g almond butter
200g almond flour (can be a mix of finer flour and ground Almonds)
2tsp baking powder
50g raisins


Preheat the oven to 160/gas 3
– Cream the butter and sugar
– Add the milk and almond butter and whisk to incorporate
– Weigh out the almond flour and baking powder, then add these to the wet mix and whisk again
– Whisk the egg white separately until foamy, then add this to the rest of the ingredients
– Fold in the raisins

Form in to balls and arrange on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, evenly spaced. I made mine about the size of golf balls because I wanted a nice, substantial sized cookie.

Flatten into rounds with the palm of your hand and bake for around 15 minutes, or until golden.

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Savoury Dishes

Sausage and Roasted Veg Hash – Nightshade Free

Nightshade free roasted veg - A Free From Life

Who said roasted veg without nightshades was boring? Oh, well that might have been me actually. Roasted veg was always a favourite of mine – Mediterranean style, with peppers, courgettes, aubergines and tomatoes. But take away the peppers, aubergines and tomatoes and you’re not left with much. Gone are those lovely colours and flavours too.

That’s not a problem though. The flavours might be different, but it’s possible to create something equally as beautifully coloured and visually appealing without using those vegetables. The combination has only the limits of the veg you like and dislike and also what works and doesn’t work when roasted in the oven. This is what I came up with:

Nightshade free roasted veg - A Free From Life

1 small-medium cauliflower, cut in to florets
1 butternut squash – half of a larger, or all of a medium-sized one, peeled and cubed
1 large or two medium courgettes, cubed (larger than the butternut as they cook quicker)
Packet of chestnut mushrooms, halved
2 red onions, quartered
2 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 dessert spoon of coconut oil
2-3 sprigs of fresh rosemary
1 tsp dried thyme
Sea salt
Two medium beetroots quartered (fresh or cooked)
3 large handfuls of kale
Packet of gluten free sausages (minimum 8)

Set the oven to 160/gas 3 and melt the coconut oil in a large roasting tin

– Add the cauliflower, butternut, courgettes, mushrooms, onions and garlic and mix to coat in the oil
– Sprinkle with sea salt and tuck in the sprigs of rosemary
– Return to the oven

– Add the sausages to a separate roasting dish and put these in the oven too

– Meanwhile steam the kale and the beetroot (if using fresh)

– Take the veg out of the oven every ten minutes or so and stir to make sure that they don’t burn

– Halfway through cooking (around 15 minutes), add the thyme

– The veg and the sausages should both be cooked after around 30 minutes

– Once cooked, cut the sausages in to bite sized pieces and add to a large frying pan with some of the cooking juices

– Add the kale and beetroot and cook until the sausage pieces are browned

– Return the sausages to the pan of veg, along with the kale and beetroot and mix thoroughly

Serve in to large bowls and enjoy.

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Converting your Recipes to Gluten Free

The Science of Baking - Understanding how to convert to gluten free - A Free From Life

Last week, I wrote about how ingredients work together in baking, particularly the importance of gluten. This week, I’m looking at how you can convert your favourite recipes to make them gluten free, what to add to mimic the structure of gluten and using other ingredients for adding flavour and texture.

How to convert recipes to gluten free - A Free From Life

What sort of flour should I use?

There are so many gluten free flours to choose from, particularly if you look in specialist health shops. Some you will prefer the taste of to others, but for baking, you need to choose flour according to its protein content. As with wheat flour, the higher the protein content of the gluten free flour, the stronger the overall structure of the finished product. In that sense, you can think of the proteins in gluten free flours in much the same way.

  • Nut flours like almond or cashew add a mild sweetness and of course, a nutty taste and are versatile enough to be used in most baked goods as a substitute for flour. You can buy them in two forms – as ground (milled) nuts or as flour. The flour version is finer (usually made with blanched nuts, skin removed) and some varieties are fat-reduced.
  • Coconut flour is also slightly sweet tasting but mild overall. This flour is very absorbent, however, meaning that it is necessary to add more liquid to a recipe when using this flour. A 1:1 ratio of flour to liquid is recommended.
  • White rice flour is a low protein flour that provides a crumbly texture, therefore is useful in pastries or shortbreads. Some people (myself included) do not like the gritty taste of white rice flour when used in yeast breads and other similar products.
  • Sorghum flour (sometimes referred to as Juwar flour) is made from a cereal grain. It has a similar taste to wheat flour and is high in protein (10g per 100g), making it ideal for use in bread, biscuits and cakes.
  • Brown rice flour is made from unhulled rice grains. It has a mild flavour and adds crunch to baked goods, so use in combination with other flours to avoid grittiness. It has a protein content of 7.5g per 100g.
  • Corn flour is made from ground corn, so it is yellow in colour. Not to be mistaken with corn starch, which is white (and pure starch, no protein), you may also see it referred to as corn meal. Corn flour has 7g protein per 100g and is often used to make corn bread, tortillas and pasta.
  • Buckwheat flour has a strong odour and taste. It is made from the buckwheat plant, which is a close relation of rhubarb. Buckwheat flour has 16.4g protein per 100g and is often used for making pancakes.
  • Quinoa flour is made from an ancient cereal grain. It has a strong flavour and aroma and is high in protein (14.2g per 100g), making it ideal for use in bread making.
  • Teff flour is made from ground grains of the ancient grass, Fragostis tef, native to Ethiopia. Red Teff has a rich red/brown colour, so use sparingly unless you want a pink-tinged loaf. The protein content of Teff flour is 11g per 100g and it is useful for making bread, pancakes or wraps.
  • Amaranth flour is made from the dried and ground seeds of the amaranth plant (a herb). It is similar to polenta in texture and has a strong earthy and grassy taste when used in baked goods. Protein content is 16.2g per 100g.
  • Gram flour is made from ground chickpeas. Any flours made from beans tend to give strong beany flavour, making it a preferred choice for savoury dishes, including savoury pancakes and flat breads. Protein content is 12.8g per 100g.
  • Soya flour is made from ground soya beans and has a high protein content (around 35g per 100g). It is yellow in colour, with a strong flavour and odour.
  • Millett flour (also known as Bajri flour) has 10g of protein per 100g. It is pale in colour and produces a soft crumb. Millett can result in a crumbly texture if too much is used, however.
  • Sweet rice flour has excellent binding properties because it is so sticky. It is often used in Asian cooking and may also be referred to as sticky or glutinous rice flour. With a mild taste, it is suitable for most uses, but use sparingly and in combination with other flours. Protein content is 6g per 100g.

Most gluten free flours have a recipe on the back of the packet. This is helpful, but don’t feel as though it is the only thing you can use the flour for. Experiment with different combinations of any flour. There are no rules and no restrictions as to what gluten free flour you choose and what you attempt to make with it. What is best though, is to combine flours in order to give a mix of different protein contents and flavours.

A huge mistake I made when I started out making gluten free bread was to think that I could throw all the ingredients in to the bread maker and let it do its job. What resulted was a badly mixed and uneven loaf that even the birds turned down.

Tips for successful gluten free baking

– Use a combination of high protein flours for breads, pies and pizza bases and lower protein flours (combined with starches) for cakes and cookies etc. Mix the flours and starches well before adding dry ingredients (with so many colours and textures of gluten free flours, this step is really important).

– The golden rule of thumb is a ratio of 70:30 protein to starch, going up to 50:50 for cakes. Why add starch to your recipe, if the flour already contains it? Starch is important for both structure and texture and it combines with the proteins in the flour to tenderise the finished product.  Starch is often added to gluten free recipes because the dough takes on more water, compared with wheat dough and this can weaken the protein structure. Adding starch helps to reinforce the structure and it also helps to hold water and keep the product moist. Common starches used in gluten free baking include arrowroot, cornstarch, tapioca starch (sometimes referred to as tapioca flour) and potato starch.

– Gluten free ‘doughs’ should be wetter and stickier than their wheat containing counterparts. For bread, look for a texture similar to an over sticky dough, not as runny as a cake batter, but not something that you would be able to knead. You don’t have to knead a gluten free dough anyway. This step is necessary for developing the gluten, so you can avoid it. What you can do is use a mixer with a dough hook and aim to incorporate as much air as you can.

– If you use a bread maker, you may have noticed that on an ordinary programme, the machine will allow the dough to rest and rise then will mix it again before allowing it to rest and rise one more time prior to baking. This ‘knocking back’ phase helps to further develop the gluten as well as redistributing the yeast and air pockets. Without the gluten present, you only have one chance for your dough to rise, so under no circumstances do you want to ruin the structure by a second kneading stage. If you don’t have a gluten free programme on your bread machine, choose a quick programme instead.

– Add half a teaspoon of vinegar to help preserve your bread. This also adds to the overall flavour.

– You need more leavening to help your cakes and breads rise. Add around 25% more baking powder/soda and/or yeast.

– Experiment with different liquids, to add flavour and texture. This could include replacing some of the water with yoghurt or buttermilk, to give a fluffier product. You could also try adding fruit or vegetable purees, to give sweetness and moisture (works well in brownies). These also add pectin, to help bind the product.

– Add an extra egg to the recipe and try using carbonated water to put more air into your product.

– Increase the flavour by 10%, so for example, extra vanilla essence. You can also add more flavour by using ingredients like nut milk, honey or coffee.

– Gums are often used in gluten free baking. They help to bind the product in a similar way to the starch and the gluten, by forming a stretchy web when mixed with water. If you use a combination of flours and starches in your recipe, gums may not be necessary, but here is an overview of what is available to try:

  • Xanthan gum – made from corn. Only 1-2 teaspoons are required in a recipe. Too much can lead to a heavy or slimy product.
  • Guar gum – made from a legume. This is a very powerful thickening agent, so again only a small amount is required.
  • Ground golden flaxseed – use 2 teaspoons for every half teaspoon of xantham or guar gum, mixed with boiling water to form a gel.
  • Ground chia seeds – use in the same way as flaxseeds.
  • Gelatine – can be used to help make dough more pliable.
  • Agar agar – vegan alternative to gelatine. This product is made from seaweed and is high in fibre, therefore must be used sparingly to avoid a soggy product. Around 1 teaspoon for every 100ml is recommended.

Don’t forget to make a note of what you use so that you remember for the next time.
Have you converted your favourite recipes to gluten free? How did it go?


Almond, Coconut Squares – Dairy Free, Gluten Free

Almond coconut squares - gluten free, dairy free - A Free From Life

I don’t know about you, but with the warm weather we’ve been having, I keep finding that the bananas in the fruit bowl are overripe before I know it and I have to turn them in to something else so they don’t get wasted.

Once they turn brown and spotty, bananas are past their best for eating, but with all the starch converted to sugar, they make a great base for using in baked goods in place of processed sugar. I used up mine to make these almond, coconut squares:

Almond coconut squares gluten free, dairy free - A Free From Life

These little treats taste so good. They are packed full of protein and combine my favourite flavours of almond and coconut. I used this fab dairy free chocolate from Doisy and Dam for an extra hit of coconut, but you can use any chocolate you like.

Coconut & Lucuma Chocolate - dairy free - A Free From Life

2 large or 3 medium overripe bananas
3 eggs
50g coconut oil
130g almond butter
130g almond flour
3tbsp coconut flour
1/2tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/4tsp salt
50g chocolate chips

Pre-heat the oven to 180/gas 4 and grease or line a flap jack tin

– Mash the bananas in a large bowl
– Add the eggs, coconut oil and almond butter and mix well
– Add the almond flour, coconut flour, bicarbonate of soda and salt and whisk until everything is well incorporated
– Fold in the chocolate chips

– Pour into the tin and spread evenly
– Bake for 20 minutes or until golden and firm to touch

What are your favourite ways to use up ripe bananas?

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Chocolate Teff Shortbread – Gluten Free, Dairy Free

Chocolate teff shortbread - A Free From Life

These cookies have the same short, crumbly texture as shortbread, but without the mountain of butter. This is the first time I’ve used teff flour in a sweet product (I normally use it in my bread recipe), but I was keen to come up with something that would enhance its rich malty flavour.

Figuring it would pair well with chocolate I had a go at making cookies. After a couple of attempts, I made these:

The addition of tahini compliments the strong flavours of the chocolate and teff, plus it means you add less butter too. I used a dairy free alternative to butter. I’ve named the biscuits after the teff flour because it is the predominant flavour that comes through.

65g rice flour
65g sorghum flour
120g tapioca flour
85g teff flour
15g raw cacao
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
50g unrefined sugar

100g butter (dairy free spread)
130g tahini
2 eggs
1tsp vanilla

Dark chocolate

– Thoroughly mix the dry ingredients together
– In a separate bowl, measure out the wet ingredients and whisk until smooth and creamy
– Add the wet mix to the dry and stir until it forms a dough
– Take walnut-sized balls of the dough and place on to a parchment lined baking sheet, ensuring there is space in between each one
– Flatten the balls to form a round cookies shape
– Bake for 12-15 minutes at 180/gas 4

Leave the cookies to cool before dipping them in melted dark chocolate. I can’t confess to having a skill at doing this. I literally dunked them face first and it got a bit messy – could be a great job for a child helper, with the bonus that you get to lick your fingers when you’ve finished!

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The Science of Baking – Understanding How to Convert to Gluten Free

The Science of Baking - Understanding how to convert to gluten free - A Free From Life

My journey to learn how to bake gluten and dairy free (successfully) is ongoing. For every winning recipe, there are around five disasters, but that’s all part of the fun. The key to success is understanding what you are dealing with and how the baking process works. For me, this is about going back a few years to when I worked as a food technologist for a research company. I spent most of my time on product development of, guess what, BREAD. You could say I baked bread for a living!

I understood the importance of each ingredient in bread and the role that each of these play in structure, texture and taste. Put it another way, I know how important gluten is for your traditional loaf, so when you take it out of the equation, you really do have your work cut out to get something that compares.

Having said that it is not impossible to achieve similar results using alternative ingredients, just as long as you understand how these individual ingredients contribute to the overall structure, texture and taste, so that you can substitute them in the right way.

Oh the irony of spending all that time working towards baking the perfect loaf of bread, when here I am (quite a few) years later trying to do the same but on a whole other level. What I’d like to do though, is take you through the baking process to show you how traditional ingredients work together. By understanding this, you can begin to see how you might make substitutions in order to achieve similar results.

What are the main ingredients used in baking?
Most baked goods contain some or all of the following:
Flour, sugar, fat, eggs, liquid, leavening agents and salt


Wheat structure - A Free From Life

The structure of flour is around 10% protein and 70%starch (the rest is fats and enzymes). A baker would choose a high protein flour for bread making (around 12-14%) and a lower protein flour for cakes (8-10%). The reason for this is that the main protein of wheat flour is gluten (70-80% in fact) and it is important for structure (you need your loaf to be robust but you don’t want a tough, chewy piece of cake!).

Gluten consists of two proteins – glutenin and gliadin and when mixed with water it forms a stretchy web. Gluten is able to stretch like elastic and then move back towards its original shape. This allows a wheat dough to expand and rise whilst retaining its original shape. Gluten is the scaffolding of the loaf and it stops a cake from collapsing.

Starch granules in the flour also help to form the structure of baked goods. When the granules absorb water, they swell. Starch also helps to tenderise the crumb of the finished product, by mixing with the gluten network and thereby limiting the development of the gluten (stops it from getting too brittle). Both gluten and starch play a role in delaying the staling of the baked goods, by holding in moisture.

Sugar also plays a role in limiting gluten development, by attracting moisture that would otherwise be absorbed by the gluten. Sugar retains moisture, which adds to the overall texture and taste of the finished product. It also reacts with the proteins in the flour and this contributes to the overall browning, to give a baked good that lovely golden colour.

Adding fat to a mix is important for improving texture and for preventing staling. Fats will shorten a dough i.e. weaken its structure, resulting in a more tender or flaky product. They do this by coating the gliadin and glutenin so that they can’t bind as easily. When sugar is present, the crystals cut tiny holes in to the fat and these become surrounded by starch and gluten. This traps air and when baked it helps increase the volume.

Eggs are important for structure in baked goods. When cooked, the proteins in the eggs set to help stabilise the product. Beating eggs traps air and on cooking, the air bubbles expand to help the product rise. Egg whites in particular form a foam that traps air and can be used to make fluffy light products such as soufflés.

Leavening agents
Leavening agents help a baked product to rise. Baking soda, or sodium bicarbonate, is mildly alkaline (pH 8.2) and is often used in a recipe that contains acidic ingredients such as lemon juice, buttermilk or vinegar. The baking soda reacts with the acids to produce carbon dioxide and acts as a neutraliser of the mixture. This affects the final texture and taste of the baked product.

Baking powder is a mixture of baking soda (which is alkaline) and an acid compound. Once added to liquid, the two react to produce carbon dioxide. Baking powder helps give a fluffy and light texture to the baked product, however, if you add too much, the batter or dough can over expand, weakening the overall structure (think collapsed cake).

Yeast is a living, single cell organism. It feeds on sugar and as it reproduces, it releases carbon dioxide. A by-product of this reaction is alcohol, which adds flavour to the finished product.
The carbon dioxide produced by the leavening agents becomes trapped in tiny air bubbles (made possible by the addition of the other ingredients). When baked, the air in these bubbles expands and this is how the product is able to rise.

Salt adds flavour and it controls the growth of yeast so that it doesn’t grow too fast and overstretch the dough. Salt also acts to strengthen the bonds of the gluten network.

You can see that together, the ingredients of a baked good all have a role to play in the texture, flavour and shape of the finished product. They are all important. The question is then, how can you achieve the same success without gluten?

Gluten free flours tend to be heavier than wheat flours. They also absorb more moisture. What this means for baking is that you can’t substitute a wheat flour for a gluten free alternative in a recipe in a like for like ratio. Gluten free flours differ to each other in texture and flavour and no one flour mimics the effects of wheat flour. What food scientists have discovered, though, is that by combining different gluten free flours and starches, it is possible to achieve similar, if not better results.

Next time, I will discuss the different types of gluten free flours you can use and how to work with them for successful baking.


Apple Slice – Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Egg Free

Apple Slice - A Free From Life

Apple Slice - A Free From Life

This recipe comes from the need to use up some apples that I had in the fridge. I used cooking apples, but when I made it a second time, I tried it with eating apples and it worked just as well. I also tried this recipe with both margarine and coconut oil. My preferred version is the one with coconut oil, but again, both work just as well.

– 250g gluten free plain flour. You can use a pre-blended version, but mine contained this mix:
150g tapioca flour
50g quinoa flour
50g sorghum flour

– 2 tsp baking powder
– 1 tsp cinnamon
– 75g unrefined sugar
– 120g coconut oil or margarine
– 2 Bramley apples (medium) or 3 eating apples
– 50g raisins
2 tbsp dairy free milk (I used Koko Dairy Free coconut milk)

Preheat the oven to 180/gas 4

– Measure out the flour, add the baking powder and cinnamon and mix well
– If using coconut oil, melt it first, then add to the dry mix. If using margarine, add in small cubes and use your fingers to rub in to the flour until you have a breadcrumb-like texture
– Stir in the sugar
– Use a blender to coarsely chop the apples into small cubes (you can do this by hand, but include a mixture of grated and chopped to vary the size of the pieces)
– Add to the mix with the raisins and stir until well incorporated
– Add the milk and stir until the mixture comes together like a sticky, loose dough

– Turn on to a lined baking sheet and form into a circle or rectangle of about two and a half centimetres thick
– Bake in the centre of the oven for 30 minutes or until golden
– Leave to cool completely before cutting in to small pieces or squares

Apple Slice - A Free From Life

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